It’s a familiar song, and you hear it after every election: turnout was dismal, below even the lowest expectations.
Tuesday’s primary election was no exception. Even with unseasonably warm weather, voters mainly stayed away during the 13 hours the polls were open, leaving the decisions to less than a quarter of the registered voters in Kane and Kendall counties.
This led to some races and referendum questions being decided by very few voters. In Montgomery, for example, a question about was decided by only 1,328 voters between the two counties. Montgomery’s more than 18,000 residents will be affected by this vote – homes and small businesses are automatically opted into the program.
Some candidates complained about the lack of voter participation. In the 11th Congressional District, attorney Juan Thomas, who for the Democratic nomination to Bill Foster, said he believes the low turnout played a part.
And Scott Gryder, who for Kendall County Board, said election authorities offer plenty of chances to vote, with early, grace period and absentee voting available before Election Day.
“I don’t understand why there’s not more of a turnout and people don’t take a greater interest in it,” he said. “I also understand that we have (busy lives).”
Kane County saw 21 percent turnout, according to County Clerk Jack Cunningham – the lowest turnout for a presidential primary election, he believes, since the 1980s. Most of those were Republican voters, he said – 36,018 of the 44,131 ballots cast were for GOP candidates.
Cunningham believes the problem can be traced to long election seasons full of negative campaigning. People, he said, are “worn out by debates for months and the negative nature of campaigns.” (Cunningham himself was a candidate in this election, running for the Republican nomination in the 11th Congressional District, until he was . He complained of negative campaigning from his opponent, Rep. Judy Biggert.)
Cunningham noted the difference between Tuesday’s election and the March 2008 election, the last time a presidential primary was held. More than twice as many voters turned out for that election, but between the interesting presidential race and the heated 14th Congressional District GOP primary between Jim Oberweis and Chris Lauzen, voters were just more excited then, Cunningham said.
“There were no hard-fought races this time,” he said.
Kendall County fared only slightly better, with about 22 percent turnout, according to County Clerk Debbie Gillette. She said Tuesday’s numbers were even down from the last non-presidential primary, in 2004 – that election drew about 27 percent of the voters, she said.
Most of the Kendall voters were Republicans as well - GOP voters cast 11,236 of the 13,930 ballots in Tuesday's election.
When asked what she thought caused such a low turnout, Gillette said, “I wish I knew. You can't say it was the weather."
Gillette said the key to improving the turnout may be to educate young people on the importance of voting. Her son, she said, just turned 18, and even he doesn’t know the issues, or how important voting is, she said. Gillette volunteered to go to schools in the county and speak to students, hoping that would make a difference.
She also pointed out that elections are expensive, and county voters should want “to get their money’s worth.”
“People say, ‘My vote doesn’t make a difference,’” she said. “If everyone who says that would vote, it would really matter.”